“This is not a room, Josephine. This is a fucking palace .”
“No, no,” said Meryell sharply as she made another turn in the center of the room, waving one hand in a circle around her head. “This is ridiculous. It’s the size of the damned dining hall at our keep below the Vimmarks.”
Josephine made a slight exasperated noise before she folded her hands in front of her and asked, “What sort of room did you have on the occasion you were not out on a job?”
Tilting her head to the side, she pointed at one of the two smaller spaces that were off the back of the overly large room at the top of Skyhold’s main tower. “A little bit wider than the bigger one. Oh, don’t look so fucking horrified. It’s enough space for a bed, my trunk, an armor stand, and a small bookshelf.”
“Josephine,” Meryell said in a sharp but still somehow gentle tone, “do remember that I grew up in an alienage.”
The other woman’s teeth shut with an audible snap and then she shook herself, moving across the room with her hands held out in obvious request. Meryell submitted to the silent question and slipped her hands into the Antivan woman’s as she said, “Forgive me, Inquisitor, I didn’t think…”
“It’s fine ,” she interrupted, cutting off whatever else was left of the apology. She hadn’t meant the alienage comment to have been a bad thing because, other than her parents dying, it hadn’t been a bad life that she recalled. Sighing heavily, Meryell looked around the room again before shaking her head as she explained, “It’s a lot of open space.”
“And that is a problem?”
“Open space is a luxury.”
Josephine looked absolutely stricken and Meryell decided to take pity on the poor woman before she went and had herself a heart attack. Squeezing her hands, she asked, “ Why do I need this much space? And don’t tell me it’s because I’m fucking Inquisitor because I didn’t want the job in the first place.”
“It was less about so much space and more about giving you a place for yourself,” replied the other woman. “It helped that it also placed your room above everything else, making it the most defensible. As it should be.”
“Uh-huh.” Meyell then sniffed and said, “That’s a good plan and all, Josephine, but it has one problem. No, sorry, two, it has two problems.”
As Josephine arched her eyebrows in question, she explained, “Half the time I’m either in Cullen’s tower or down in the Fangs’ camp . When I can find the time to even get to either. ”
And yet…the other woman was smiling .
Josephine shook her head and laughed before squeezing Meryell’s hands as she said, “Do you believe that any of us are worried when you are in those two places? It is well accepted fact now that your company is your family and that each and each one of you would do anything for the other.” The Antivan woman then smirked as she continued, “And the Commander , of course, would do anything to keep you safe.”
Then her levity vanished and Meryell cocked her head to the side even as she tried not to blush – and failed miserably – at the comment about Cullen.
“It is not at those times that we worry about you,” Josephine explained, “but the others. Where do you go when the Commander is busy? When the majority of the Fangs are not here? When your father is gone?”
“I don’t…I don’t have a clear answer for that.”
There were a dozen places that she could answer: sitting with Varric at his table to chat with him while he wrote, curling up into the spare chair in Dorian’s alcove in the library to read in companionable silence, dozing on Chuckles’ couch to escape the inevitable botherers, ducking away with Sera to help her with some mischief or another, lying in the loft to watch Blackwall whittle while he fielded questions of do you know where the Inquisitor is with a shrug, practicing with Cassandra until they moved as one, throwing herself bodily into the pile of Chargers normally in the Rest to hide and chat with Krem and Bull. None of those were the worrisome ones though. No, those were probably her frequent trips around Skyhold and back and forth to their camps down in the valley. Alternatively, there were the runs she’d been making through the kitchen, infirmary, or just tent-to-tent to make sure everyone was getting what they needed. And she’d been doing that before all of this Inquisitor shit came down the line.
“And that is why we wish to give you this room. You are…”
The woman abruptly turned her head away, blinking several times, and Meryell leaned forward in concern. “Josephine…?”
“I am fine,” she insisted with a tight smile, squeezing her fingers again. Then the Antivan woman said a little breathlessly, “I do not think you realize entirely yet what you mean to us. To all of the Inquisition.”
Meryell frowned at that, wondering where this was going.
“You are an elf , Meryell,” continued Josephine, using her name in that same breathless tone, the first time she’d done it outside of the war room. “Though so many of us know different, there are some that believe the stories that have been passed down over such long years about elves. There are also those, of course, who believe the lie that pointed ears somehow make you a lesser being.”
Shaking her head, the woman went on.
“Not to mention, you are a mercenary . A fact which you have never feared to proclaim and never hid despite the fact that I tried so hard to keep it a secret.”
Laughing briefly, Meryell said, “Sorry. Never seen one fucking reason to deny what I am.”
“Which is a thing I actually respect about you. That is not my point, however.” Josephine paused for a breath before going on, “What people think they know of the world tells them that elves and mercenaries are a certain way. It is what they expect. You have changed that.”
Blinking, she began, “But I haven’t…done anything . I’ve just been…”
“You?” queried the other woman with a laugh. “And that seems to be precisely what the people love about you. You aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty to help them. They’ve seen you laughing and talking and drinking right amongst them in the tavern. You’ve even brought the Commander there. It makes you…”
“A person, not a figurehead,” interjected Meryell. One of the very things she’d noted months ago that such behavior made them. She wasn’t just the Herald, she was one of them.
Josephine nodded and said a quiet, “Yes,” with a bright smile. Then she laughed and added, “I will be rather affronted if you decide to not use the room. There was much work put into it and input taken from all of your company before you left two months ago for the Hinterlands and Fallow Mire.”
Tilting her head in silent question, she blinked at the woman. When all she got in response was Josephine freeing her hands so she could twirl them in a spinning motion, Meryell rolled her eyes but did as she was bid.
This time, as she turned to look at the room from where they stood at the stairs leading up into it, she actually looked . She had merely seen the size of it before and not really regarded what was inside . And what she found in the first glance had her lifting a hand to cover her mouth in shock.
There was a battered old company banner hanging over the fireplace mantle between two bookshelves that were heavy with stock she couldn’t read the titles of this far away. The desk that sat off to the side of the dark stones that surrounded the fireplace was starkly familiar though, enough that she knew there would be a sword scar across the surface and that one of the scuffed paw-shaped legs had been replaced by a heavy rough-cut piece of wood on the seating side. Moving forward as if pulled, Meryell ran her fingers along its sides, the grain of the old wood tugging at her skin, as she looked at what was on the desk.
There was a little wooden box that she knew would contain one of Folke’s non-medicinal teas, likely one of her favored flavors, without opening it as he always used the little boxes Mort carved. A tall wooden cup (likely also Mort given the full company arms was burned carefully into it) held what she was certain were the feather quills that Pod was constantly making for the Captain. In a small hand-made bowl of clay (probably Bel’s work) was a collection of rocks, crystal fragments, and the sparkle of tiny precious gems; the obvious work of Bort, Torrance, Myrtle, and the other current company youths who were always collecting such things. An old dagger held down a stack of clean parchment, blade chipped and slightly rusted with its wrappings fraying, made her nearly tear up because it was Harvard’s belt knife.
Fighting a lump in her throat, she breathed, “This is the Captain’s desk. From his office at the keep. I’ve hidden under this desk.”
“Yes,” noted Josephine with a nod and a smile. “He related that tale after I mentioned I wished to have a desk for you. Then he informed me that he’d see this one delivered because he’d see you with no other. And he needed a new desk anyway.”
Laughing, Meryell shook her head and turned away from the desk despite there being more on it. She would explore it further later to see what other treasures had been placed there. Instead she spun to put her back to it and began running her fingers over spines of the books lining the shelves, most of the titles familiar as ones that were old favorites in the keep. Then hers fingers stuttered because she knew that spine, knew the scuff at the bottom, the burn mark along the top, knew that the pages were nearly coming detached from the inside.
It was her copy of Adventures of the Black Fox. Not the one Varric had rescued from the Chantry. Not one purchased to give her a copy. No, this was her copy . The one she’d snitched from a South Reach book shop at twelve while helping another member of the gang rob it. She had read it greedily so many times, curled up in her corner in the hahren’s home or the gang’s miserable little hideout or her room at the keep.
She would know that book blind.
And it had been utterly lost in Haven.
“How? ” breathed Meryell as she pulled the book out and cradled it against her chest like the precious thing it was.
Josephine just smiled and replied, “Commander Cullen began putting forth recovery efforts for those we lost in Haven since we’re beginning to see the first thaw. One of the things he asked the volunteers to do was reach your cabin if it was feasible and recover what belongings of yours that they could.”
Oh fuck .
She was fucking crying.
Turning away furiously to hide her face but certain the other woman had seen anyway – keen damned perception that she had and all – Meryell said, “And they did.”
“Inquisitor, it was the first thing they did.”
For a moment she couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, because them rescuing her books meant they had her chest. Which meant…
Whirling around, Meryell abruptly didn’t care about the tears on her face and Josephine seeing them. She sought out the chest, which was sitting open at the end of the fur covered bed – a fur that looked remarkably like the one Cullen had on his coat. That meant…where would he put them?
Only Folke would know about the most important objects in her chest.
“ Where? ” she breathed aloud then her eyes fell on the empty armor stand that stood near the windows opposite the stairwell. Given that her actual armor was on the stand in her tent, there was nothing to actually put on the stand.
But someone had carefully hung an old leather satchel with a long strap around its ‘shoulders’ and then draped a heavy looking shawl of dark wool over the top of that.
She vaguely registered Josephine saying something but Meryell did not hear the words. Instead she crossed the room with one hand holding her book to her heart and the other stretched out so she could carefully curl her fingers into the old wool.
“ Mamae ,” she whispered, stroking the back of her hand along the hanging half of the shawl. They hadn’t been able to put her mother in it due to how the city had deemed the best course to get rid of the sickness. Instead the shawl had remained and when the goods of her parents’ home were taken for the rest of the alienage or coin to feed her, she had guarded it viciously.
Meryell then trailed her hand down to touch the old, supple leather of the satchel. It was a simple thing, just an open pouch with a bit of a flap for cover and a long strap to hang it over a shoulder, but babae had never been without it. He’d been an apprentice to his Clan’s craftsman and had made it himself, one of his first works. That it had stayed with him through the ordeal with the templars was little more than a miracle as none of his clothes did. After that, he had worn it every day, even when he took up the trade again, helping one of the South Reach merchants from the back of his shop to craft minor leather pieces, and made so much better.
Out of everything she’d ever had, the three items she currently touched were what she had held onto with everything she had. Through the bullshit of the hahren , the mild chaos of the gang, and all her years with the Fangs, these were her most precious things.
A soft hand touched her shoulder and Meryell turned, ducking her head as she realized it was Josephine. “Inquisitor,” the woman said gently, “are you well?”
Laughing a little, she replied, “I’m…damned if I know. Overwhelmed mostly. This is…”
“Much more than you expected?”
“It’s bits of them,” Meryell explained. “That’s part of baba’s reasoning behind his charms. It’s not only tracking, it’s a way to take a little piece of the company – of home – with you when you’re away.” Which proved the point that the company wasn’t abandoning her, that even if their contract with the Inquisition ended she was still a Fang until she chose to leave.
Josephine just smiled and carefully wrapped an arm around Meryell’s shoulders, using her other hand to steer her back towards the center of the room. “Not only bits of them,” she said as she settled them facing the end of the need. “Look up.”
She did as bid and choked on a sob, somehow turning it into a laugh. On the wall behind the little raised area built above the bed, someone had painted the keep. Obviously it wasn’t Chuckles’ because it was a more common style of painting and there wasn’t a Fang in the company who had that much skill. Whoever had gotten together to describe it to the painter, though, had done a bang-up job. The keep was in the foreground with its banners flying and she could see part of the stables and other areas that had been built on over the years behind the trees that took up the bulk of the bottom of the wall. Behind it, of course, rose the bulk of the Vimmarks and she let out a long breath as she stared at it.
“Josephine?” she breathed, reaching blindly back for the woman with her free hand as she still held Adventures against her chest with the other.
Warm, slender fingers lacking callus and with only the wear of a quill tangled with hers and it sounded like Josephine was fighting tears as she replied, “Yes, Inquisitor?”
“I was wrong,” Meryell said with a smile.
“Not too much space?”
“Not too much space at all.”